Gresham’s Law of Sports Commentary

Economists know Gresham’s law as “bad money pushes out good money if forced to exchange at the same price.” Some variant of this seems to work in sports commentary, and seemingly nowhere more than football. Bold assertions that sound appealing but have no basis in fact, or only a fleeting basis, possess half-lives near that of plutonium. In Saturday’s Weekend Wall Street Journal, Allen Barra takes yet another swipe at some of the treasured “maxims” of football wisdom, drawing from research done by others. He lists 10 but 3 stand out because of their their long, long tradition among the coach- or player-turned-analyst set:

  • “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships”
  • “You need a strong running game”
  • “You have to control the ball”

I’m sure quibbles could be raised with some of the data analysis leading to their rejection. Having done some work on the one of these in my Ballfields and Boardroom, I can say with confidence that it does not hold up past the 1970s yet endures. Barra quotes a T.J. Troupe, a football historian, who offers a Stengel-esque rebuttal:

“Great defense beats great offense — and vice versa”.

Too bad that we can’t get the Sean Saliburys of the world to perk up and pay attention to data rather than their own voices.

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Author: Brian Goff

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